How Recycled Wind Turbines Could One Day Be Used To Make Candy

Researchers working on reducing waste from green energy have discovered a new material that could not only make wind turbines recyclable but also comes with a pretty sweet byproduct. According to Eurekalert, a research team from Michigan State University presented its findings at the American Chemical Society's annual conference in Chicago this week and revealed that not only have they discovered a durable resin that is strong enough to build wind turbine blades, but it can also be melted down and recycled either into more turbine blades or household products including sinks and countertops. Other items that could be made from recycled blades are diapers and even gummy bears.

The team did not set out to find a new way to make candy. The purpose of the research, led by Dr. John Dorgan, was to make wind energy more efficient. As countries move towards increased use of renewable energy, the shortcomings of those systems need to be faced. For wind power, Eurekalert notes, the issue is that wind turbines have a limited lifespan, and when they are retired, the massive blades — some measuring up to 150 feet long — end up in landfills. According to engineering consulting firm TWI, wind turbines have a life expectancy of 20 to 25 years and require extensive maintenance as they age. Dorgan notes that these maintenance issues or improvements in efficiency technology sometimes cause blades to be replaced even before their lifespan has expired, making the need for less wasteful blades more pressing.

Infinite recycling loop

To reduce waste, Dorgan and his team created a new composite resin by combining fiberglass with two polymers, one of which is plant-based and a second that is synthetic (per Eurekalert). The resulting thermoplastic resin underwent testing and proved strong enough to endure use in wind turbines and automobiles. Additionally, it was found that they can easily be melted down at the end of their lifespan for recycling. USA Today notes that while some existing wind turbines could be recycled, it's not common because older materials are harder to break down.

Dorgan's new resin, however, has broader recycling possibilities. Dorgan noted during his presentation that the substance could be dissolved and " ... used over and over again in an infinite loop ... " (via Eurekalert). Not only can the material be reused to make more, equally durable turbine blades, but through experimenting with the melted resin, the research team discovered it could be used to create kitchen fixtures like sinks and countertops, plastic covers for power tools and computers, and acrylics for windows and headlights. More unexpectedly, the team found that melting the resin in a hot, alkaline solution, could create polymers used in disposable diapers and food-grade potassium lactate, a common ingredient in candy. The team used the substance to make gummy bears, which they ate. "It's all part of the global carbon cycle," Dorgan said. "We've shown that we can go from biomass in the field to durable plastic materials and back to foodstuffs."